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Local veterans question Rep. Underwood, panel on health care at Elburn town hall meeting

Local lawmakers meet with veterans, families on Aug. 21

ELBURN – Elburn resident Sheila Albano has a friend who spent more than 25 years on a nuclear submarine in the Navy, including the secretive world of black ops.

He’s undoubtedly a true hero, but also someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And despite giving so much to his country, he has not been able to get the mental health care he needs in return because of the extremely high security of the special operations he was involved in.

Albano explained her friend’s predicament while seeking the assistance of 14th District U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood and the rest of her panel that participated in a Town Hall meeting at the Elburn American Legion Post 630 on Aug. 21. Many issues that veterans are facing were discussed, including benefit claims and the work Underwood is doing in Washington, D.C.

“Let me look into that for you,” said Dr. Steven Braverman, director of the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. “One of the potential ways in which we can address that is one of the VA facilities in the Chicagoland area is a combined Navy/VA facility. I happen to know some folks up there with clearance that would allow some level of discussion. And one of the other potential options is mental health is one specialty that lends itself to telehealth so maybe we can set-up an opportunity for him to be able to engage somebody else that has one of those clearances through that method.”

Hughes Turner, the Executive Director, VA Regional Office (Chicago) for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Illinois State Senator Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) and Illinois State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) joined Braverman, Underwood and host, Dan Kolzow, of the Elburn Legion, for the 90-minute Q&A session.

They fielded approximately a dozen questions and comments, including one from Laura McNeece, a case manager at Hesed House in Aurora, which is the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois.

McNeece explained that there are many veterans who were discharged with less than an honorable discharge “for things that if it happened in the community and they were arrested, it would not count on their record and wouldn’t cost them jobs or housing or benefits” who aren’t receiving the help they’ve earned and need.

“We need to remember that just because someone has a less than honorable discharge does not mean they didn’t serve their country honorably for a timeframe,” she said. “They did and many of those veterans identify as being veterans.”

Kifowit agreed.

“One of the mission of (the) Illinois Joining Forces (Foundation) is to help all veterans and it’s in the mission statement of our strategic plan,” she said. “It acknowledges those veterans that might have a DD 214 that are a little less than honorable.”

While topics centered on veterans’ issues, Hughes asked attendees that if they know someone who is currently serving in the military to do something to help make sure they’re ready to make the transition back to civilian life.

“One thing to underscore to them, is to be sure they have positive control of their medical records while in uniform and their personnel records,” he said. “You never know if they end up (lost) somewhere. Everything is based on documentation and it becomes more difficult for filing claims without it.”

Only a single question was asked about the VA Mission of Act of 2018. VA no longer furnishes care under the Veteran Choice Program (VCP), which has been replaced by a Veteran Community Care Program that provides veterans with more choices for care and better customer service when receiving community care.

“We have been hard at work on your behalf over the last several months,” Underwood said. “We did pass the (Blue Water Navy Veterans Act) which was signed into law and we’re working on a variety of other bills in the House that have passed and gone over to the Senate.”

Where they now sit.

“I am hopeful that the Senate will give those bills the same consideration for the Blue Water,” Underwood said. “Just because they might not have unanimous support in the Senate does not mean they aren’t worthy of consideration.

“Right now the gridlock that we’re seeing is not sustainable and and we know there are a lot of folks that could use the additional benefits, assistance and streamlining that we’re hoping to accomplish with many of our bills. But because of this gridlock in the Senate we all have some work to do to let our voices be heard so those items can move forward.”

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